Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo

Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo cover

In lieu of a rich sugar-mummy, or a win on the lottery, my main source of life in Japan has been following the many blogs and vlogs of foreign residents living in and experiencing that far away country, with one of my favourites being American born Grace Buchele – Mineta and her Japanese husband Ryosuke Mineta’s “Texan In Tokyo” Youtube series and blog site that covers their life and times as a multinational couple living in Japan.

Its the later writings and 4 panel cartoons that have been gathered together over the last 2 years and published as a series of books with this, “Confessions of a Texan in Tokyo”, being her third release.
As with her previous work [ and a definite boon for anyone coming into her work for the first time with this volume] the book starts with a basic introduction of grace and Ryouske [ and Graces imaginary friend Marvin, who serves as one part graces sounding board, one part straight man].

Interspersed throughout the 4 panel comics are some of her writings from her Texan in Tokyo blog [and her posts from both gaijinpot and Metropolis Magazine] which cover a wide number of subjects from the serious [ like how she manages negative feedback to her posts, and how her health prevents her ability to ] to the informative [want to know what a Tsundoku suru hito is? How to live in Tokyo on a budget?which street light colour means go?] to the insightful [how grace dealt with culture shock while living abroad] all of which are written with a clear sense of knowledge and experience that you don’t get from a quick wikipedia search.
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So are there there any faults to this release? well the art style, while legible and entertaining might not be to very-ones cup of tea. Also, apart for the posts about negative posts, the book never really goes into the dark side if you will about life as a foreigner living In Japan – and im sure they have experienced their fair share – instead simply writing about the generally lighter side of their life and times.
There is also the fact that, as the majority of these posts and comics have been published online [either on her Texan in tokyo blog or on both the aforementioned gaijinpot and Metropolis Magazine’s own website], that your affectively paying for free content – however as neither websites contain a complete collection of her work and not all of them have been published in book format as yet [this and her previous 2 collections being more of a “best of” of her work so to speak] it could be argued that this is an easier way of seeing them all them in one place.

So have I tempted you? Or made you at least curious about her? then your in luck as Grace has, as a promotion of this new book, arranged so that from the 21st to the 23rd of this month it’ll be free to download from Amazon, with a physical release available afterwards

ryouske and grace

Kaoru Mori’s Anything and something

kaorumorianything

As I mentioned in my artist spotlight, despite the number of Kaoru Mori’s titles that are available in the west, I was disappointed that, due to their length, many of her short stories were unavailable legally – That is until the recent release by Yen press of Anything and something, a collection of her short stories that she has had published in Fellows magazine, along with many of her various illustrations and sketches from the last 10 years, as well as artwork of both her earlier works Emma and Shirley and her most recent work brides story.

As the title suggests the titles presented cover a large swathe of subjects including –

Welcome to the mansion, master – where a young delivery boy suddenly finds himself the less than willing owner of a of less than scrupulous maid and butler.

Burrow Gentlemen’s club – One of the many contemporary period stories included in this book this tale, told in the first person, introduces us to a hostess club waitress who may be more than she seems….
Oh, did I forget to mention that she’s also a bunny girl?

Miss Claire’ s ordinary, everyday life – Despite the title of this 2 part story Claire, the sole renaming servant to the always broke Baron Heinz, has anything but an ordinary life, from see through glasses, to burglars, to even a gramophone built into a Victorian telephone [beating bill gates by 100 years!]

But by far my favourite part of the book was that Velvet blossoms, the story drawn by Kaoru and written by Satoshi Fukushima, and which I covered in my artists spotlight on Kaoru Moris works, has been included in this book [although retitled for the western release as “Sumires flowers”].
The story of two female art club members, one more interested in her art than social interaction, the other who uses the art club as a mean to “socially interact”, and how the two eventually come to understand each other and bond through art still stands in my mind by far as the one title that makes this book a must buy – In fact out of them all I think both Sumires flowers and Claire had the potential to be developed into their own [albeit short] series in their own right.

In all this series is an absolute must for fans of Kaoru Mori, whether through her recent work Brides story or [like me] through Emma.

Osamu Tezukas Barbara

barbara cover

When I started Chou -Dori back in 2009 if you had told me that a manga company Would bring out a manga title by the pure power of Crowd sourcing I would have wondered what you were drinking – and would have promptly ordered a double of it.

And yet In 2011 American manga company DMP [Digital Manga Publishing] set out to achieve just that – and now I hold the result of that project.

First and foremost Osamu Tezukas Barbara as a manga shows itself to be a work of its time – when published in 1973 Japan was still enjoying the euphoria of a culture addicted to the next big thrill – be it Drugs, art, sex and social and political revolution – and yet at this time it was clear that the party was coming to an end as political corruption was rife, and students of Tokyo university protested over the Japanese government signing the Security Treaty with the United States, a treaty that allowed American to place Air force bases on Okinawa.

Into this mix we are introduced to Yosuke Mikura, a relatively famous Author and social darling, with offers both political and matrimonial landing on his lap, all of which he casually casts aside, confident with his own talent and hubris – That is until the day that He find the young Vagrant, and the title character of the book, Barbara – whose otherwise foul mouthed, heavy drinking surly attitude towards Youske and his talents hide a gift that is both an unexpected boon to him and also a curse that will destroy him utterly….

In its execution this work shows the classic signs of a Tezuka manga , from the artwork to pacing to the script, with artist and philosophical quotes aplenty throughout the series – but don be fooled by this – even when compared to many of his other more adult works like supernatural series “Ode to Kirihito” and the murder mystery “Mu”, Barbara attempts to go into directions much darker still, dabbling into themes of the occult, physical abuse, drug taking and psychosis as we discover that Youskes own personal demons and……interests leave him to be less of a hero of this piece.

Indeed as we watch Youskes take for granted the good fortune that Barbaras presence seems to give to him I couldn’t help but be reminded of the endless line of talent show “celebrities” all desperate to reap as much as possible from their less than hard earned fame. It could also be seen in another way as an analogy of drug addiction itself, with Yosuke’s obsessive desire for both Barbara and for fame resulting in his eventual spiral towards inevitable loss and self-destruction.

barbara_01_014

Also the pacing of the series left me disconnected at times and while this could be attributed to the series being released episodically by the manga magazine “Big comic”, the episodes themselves felt at best only loosely connected – indeed some, like chapter 5 ,“the demon on the dune”, where Youske returns to an island where he met his first love in a younger time but which turns out to be much, much more – felt more like a short story in format that had been wedged into the series.

As a result this work could be seen as Osamu Tezuka’s attempt to both compete with the rising Gekiga movement, [whose series that were focused on violence and sex scenes gave us series like Kazua koike’s samurai series Lone wolf and cub] But also His attempt to remain relevant as a mangaka at a time when, despite the fact that he is known now as “the godfather of manga”, by the 70’s he was struggling to remain relevant to an audience that was increasingly looking for more darker and edgier works to whet their pallet’s.

Indeed it could be argued that, while trying to appeal to the more adult readership, it feels like Tezuka has deliberately handicapped himself, with his plots and characters seemingly pantomime like and one dimensional in their personalities and backgrounds – it felt like he was hesitant to take the story too far into the darkness that others [like kazua koike] were wholesale plunging into for fear of alienating fans of his more light-hearted, child friendly series.

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But one thing is clear though – Barbara is by far one of Osamu’s more darker and unsettling titles and you should not go into this looking for the comedy and light-heartedness that is symbolic of much of his other works.

Artist spolight: Ume Aoki


For some our first encounter with her was with the Character Designs from the alternative magical girl show “Puella magi Madoka magica”.

For others its been via her sleeper hit manga and anime series “Hidamari Sketch”.

But however you know her there’s no mistaking the art style of Ume Aoki.

Born on August 3 in Hyōgo Prefecture Japan Ume Aoki started off her career as a Doujinshi artist, using firstly the pen name Apply Fujimiya [for the 2005 Nekoneko Soft visual novel Sanarara] before later on using the name “Apricot+” for her various Doujinshi that she still releases today [as do any many other mainstream mangaka like Yoshitoshi Abe and Ken Akamatsu].

She also provides the voice for her ‘metapod’ persona in all four series of the anime adaptation of Hidamari Sketch. Aoki also provided the original character designs for the anime production, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, developed by Shaft.

Also, like a lot of mangaka its almost impossible to find actual pictures of Ume aoki herself, she preferring to use her “metapod” avatar above. However I did some digging around and found this image on “Hidamari Sketch Fandisc Episode – March 31 – Hidamari Days” and well, it MAY be Ume Aoki, but until an official picture appears this may the closest to her real identity we may get.

The Real Ume Aoki?

NOTE – While I’d love in include all of her Doujin as well as her official releases the fact that Ume’s Doujin work alone could take up an article by itself I’ve decided to only only focus on her non Doujin work – for those of you wanting to know more can go to the doujinshi and manga lexicon, where you can get an up to date list of all of her Doujin.


2005 – Two smiling faces
While this is only a short story [only coming in at 6 pages] this marks one of Ume’s first professional publications.
The story though is, like a lot of her work, anything but ordinary – a nameless males equally nameless girlfriend [ who looks quite like Miyako from Hidamari sketch] comes down with an disease that [I kid you not] robs people of a random emotion – in her case sadness. While an interesting [if unusual concept] I felt that this was the weakest of her works, with the plot stymied by page length and plot development – we never really seemed to see the real effects of the disease other than one page of her trying to show anger, only to come off as bitter looking – and the ending itself seems incomplete and unsatisfying generic to make me wonder if the script had benn written by someone else, with Ume only supplying the art.

As a first professional release it shows the beginnings of Umes talent and skill – but that’s all – and doesn’t highlight Ume Aoki’s true potential – a potential that came to light with the next release….


2005 – present – Hidamari sketch
One of the three ongoing series Ume Aoki is working on as of this article [yes three – more on them shortly] Hidamari sketch [or “Sunshine sketch” in its English release] is by far the most well known of Umes work to western fans, thanks both to the original manga being published in the west by American manga company Yen press and the release of the anime series by Sentai Filmwork.
The ongoing series [currently published in “Manga Time Kirara”] follows Yuno, a highschool student at Yamabuki high – a private high school that teaches art as well as normal studies, and her friends at the Hidamari apartments – simple seeming, yet artistically talented artist Miya, the always sensible appearing, professional writer Sae and her…..Friendship with warm motherly Hiro [ interesting fact here, In an interview Ume admits that while editors insisted that no same sex relationships were to exist in the series, Ume none the less was still able to slip in enough hints to reader to guess otherwise]. Later on in the series we’re introduced to two new members – the shy but lovable Nazuna, and her opposite, the outspoken and forward IT expert Nori.
The supporting cast also get their time to shine in the series, from the girls art teacher and rampant cos-player Yoshinoya sensei, and her never ending telling’s off by the school principle, Natsume [a fellow students who despite wanting to make friends with Hiro, always seem to end up getting into arguments with her] – Even occasional characters like the female manager of Hidamari apartments gets her own time to shine and develop in the series.

But for me theres one factor that makes Hidamari sketch shine [pardon the pun] from the plethora of other manga series with similar concepts, and thats the writing – the series is able to go from silly to thoughtful to engaging with an ease that many other series only wish they could achieve. Also again the characters are written as realistic people with their own strengths and weakness – from Hiros endless obsession with her weight to Hiros worries about her work to Nazunas worries about living on her own for the first time, while in reverse we have Miya’s endless energy and ability to always see the good and best out of any situation, and Yunos occasional worries countered by her ability to persevere and conquer those worries – all of them are given there moment in the spotlight to grow and develop as time and the series progresses.
As the only series of Ume’s to date to get a western release this sereis is and absolute joy to read and to re read.


2006 – present -Tetsunagi Kooni
Her second ongoing series and, to date, the only one not to be published in manga publisher Houbunsha’s Manga Time Kirara magazine line [ in Kooni’s case in Fujimi Shobo’s “Monthly Dragon Age”] Tetsunagi Kooni [or ”Hand Holding Little Demon”, due to her habit of holding fellow lead character Shinos hand at night for security] eschews the 4 koma panel format of Hidamari, in favour of a more standard comic strip style of layout as we follow High school girl Shino after she discovers a young female Oni called Sanri, who comes down from the mountains near Shinos town after the disappearance of Sanri’s mother. Later we’re introduced to Yukki and Nakanishi, two friends Shino [and, in comparison to Hidamari, not only Nakanishi is a male character who is also a main character in the series, but also Yukki and Nakanishi are an actual couple].

At times funny and yet at times poignant and thought full [we discover early one that the reason for Sanri to come into town was due to her mother disappearing after hunters came into the woods] Tetsunagi Kooni is a suprising and engaging addition to Ume’s catalogue [and a pity that this is available in the west yet].


2012 – present – Mado no Mukougawa
The newest of her works [which translates roughly as “The Other Side of the Window”] this new series, which is published in publisher Houbunsha’s newest manga magazine “manga time Kirara Carino”, introduces Kei Sonofuji, whose dreams of setting a good image on her first day at high school are ruined when she gets the mumps on the first week – only to discover that in her absence she’s been elected as class rep, alongside male student Ishizaki. Like Testunagi Kooni Mado eschews the 4 koma panel format of Hidamari, in favour of a more normal comic strip style of layout and while I’ve only seen the first episode of this, a intended ongoing sees, I have Huge hopes that Ume will add her own inimitable magic to this work, and that a western release will not be too far off in the future.

Conclusion
Going into this , like a lot of people probably would, I honestly expected to see a short but talent number of releases.
After finding that Ume Aoki has the talent to create works covering a wide expanse of subjects and genres and her ability to create fully developed, believable characters I find myself even more amazed and even more in admiration for this most elusive and prolific of Mangaka’s.
As of this article Hidamari sketch is available in manga form from Yen press, with the anime adaptation available from Sentai filmworks. However Two smiling faces, Tetsunagi Kooni nor Mado no Mukougawa are currently available in the west.

A Distant Neighbourhood

Distant Neighbourhood NE_COVER.indd

Hindsight is a seductive thing. It leads us to wonder “what if I’d taken that path instead of the other?”; “What if I’d asked that girl out when I had the chance?”; “What if I’d done more with my life?”

Now imagine if you had that chance to do just that!

This question is posed by A Distant Neighbourhood, from four-times Eisner award nominated Jiro Taniguchi as its lead character, fourty-something workaholic Hiroshi Nakahara, finds himself falling asleep in late 1990s Japan – only to wake up not only in 1963, but also in his own 14-year-old self, with his adult memories and knowledge intact. After a short period of euphoria, and the chance to enjoy life as a schoolboy again, he realises that not only could the opportunity be here to change history, but also a chance to solve a mystery that had plagued him for years… why was this the year that Hiroshi’s father disappeared?

Like the Studio Ghibli film Only Yesterday, A Distant Neighbourhood (which was originally published by Shogakukan in 1998) inadvertently gives us a snapshot of two different time periods. Firstly, within the 1960s we get to see a post-war Japan in a state of transition, with traditional farming and cultural styles making way for more modern, western attitudes and fashions (at that time Japan was only a year away from hosting the Olympic games) and the resulting prosperity bringing hope of a better future for the people of Japan. In comparison though we see the Japan of late 1990s – a time of Japan trying to recover after a long time in recession caused by the bubble crash and struggling through high unemployment and debt to become a superpower yet again.

The writing for this series is told, in part, by Hiroshi himself as he monologues about events and sometimes considers the difference this childhood, with its relative freedom, compares to his stressful life as an adult. “Surely no one can truly become an adult”, to quote part of the series “Deep in peoples hearts their child self remains, [but] because of time people are forced to act like adults, and the shackles we call maturity shut down the free mind of children”.

As for the artwork? What can I say about the artwork for this series? It’s simply stunning is all I can say – with incredibly near-photographic artwork of Hiroshi’s home town of Kurayoshi, both in the 90s and the 60s, in some cases you’ll be spending as much time admiring the artwork as you will the story itself and in fact I could almost imagine myself walking along those same streets and locales, the detail being that thorough.

The only grumble I could lay on this series is the price tag – at £19.99 this can cost a lot more than your usual manga series, yet I felt that the writing and all round execution of this series is more than worth the extra price. A Distant Neighbourhood is one of those rare gems – a well though out, thought-provoking series that will leave you coming back again and again to discover more facets that you may have missed before.

A distant neighbourhood are available from the  Portent mon/Fanfare website  or from all good retailers.

The Kurosagi Corpse delivery service vol 1

If C.S.I. Was written by a Japanese horror writer what you’d probubly get would be The Kurosagi Corpse delivery service.

The series, written by Eiji Otsuka, with artwork by Housei Yamazaki, and which is currently being published by Dark Horse, follows a group of students from a Buddhist university as they utilize their unique talents to help lay to rest the souls of those who due to one thing or another cannot pass on – and all of these talents get utilized during the four episodes of this first of, to date, 15 volume series, from dowser Numata to teen aged embalmer Makino to the double act of channeler Yata and his ….less than eloquent hand puppet, to group leader Sasaki, who’s own contribution is to sell photos of bodies on the Internet, and whilst doing so gain leads for their next jobs.

[from left] Numata, Makino, Yata, Karatsu and Sasaki

However for me the star of the show has to be Karatsu – a trainee Buddhist who’s main talent is the ability to speak with the dead – and at times of need become a channel for what looks like Frankensteins monster in Japanese shrine priests uniform – what their connect is not known in this volume, although many hints are made that karatsu is not doing this entirely out of charity.

Each of the cases in this first volume follows roughly the same pattern – the group discover a body and, after determining their identity and what they wish to gain peace, try to uncover how to lay them to rest, with the deceased awarding them in a kind of karmic payback – they even hve their own delivery van!

After the first episode, which involves suicide of a pop idol and a boyfriend who gives new meaning to “love from beyond the grave”, we are treated to three, non connected stories, which span a spectrum of the bizarre – mummies in a portable altar, to finding a body comprised of several different people, to even beating an insurance fraudster who can predict the time of your death!
From the getgo however i must point out that the artwork of this series is graphic in its portrayal of the bodies – from the first hanging, rotted body of the first chapter to scenes of a fridge full of body parts in the third chapter – Housei Yamamzaki pulls no blows with his depiction of the victims, confirming the need for this series to be published with a plastic wrap and parental advisory warning – this series is not for the squeamish!
Overall form this first volume, id say that in its current format i can see potential for success with this series, an opinion backed by the fact that this is published by dark horse comics – a company not know or picking flops.However i could see that, without variation in plot line or character development, even the shock value of this series might not be enough to keep this series going.

As this first volume proves, Karmic paybacks a bitch!

12 of the 15 volumes of Kurosagi Corpse delivery service are currently available in the west from Dark horse comics with more on the way.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Alright i know what your thinking – “dude, its been months since the Madoka anime finished and your only NOW reviewing it?”

Well firstly it isn’t the anime I’ll be reviewing today – But instead the manga that were released at the same time.

Madoka magica

At first glance the manga series is a relative carbon copy of the series, and as the story progresses the story does copy the anime relatively closely [ a fact helped by the artist and writer having access to the storyboards and scripts of the anime]
and yet rather than take the lazy path and simply create a carbon copy of the series, this manga has instead used the scripts and storyboards as a guide, a fact that as a result created a series that can easily stand on its own – in fact you could read this entire series without ever seeing the anime and still enjoy it. Another credit is the fact that [ no doubt in part to fan reactions to the anime as artistic licence] certain scenes from the anime series have been expanded and even [in this case of the infamous events from episode 3….you know which one] have been shown with more detail than censors would have allowed on the series.

A definitley darker version of episode 3's... imfamous scene.

Orico magica


The first of the two spin off titles for the Puella Madoka Franchise this 2 volume series serves as more of a side story [in a manner – that’s all I can say without giving outright spoilers] than as either a stand alone or as an inclusion to the main storyline.
In this story its in fact that spear wielding, apple munching redhead Kyokou Sakurai who takes the spotlight as she finds and takes in Yuma, a young orphan who, despite kyoukos best efforts, is inextricably drawn into her world when a sudden rash of Magical girl slaying’s make there way into Kyoukos neck of the woods.

To is credit, and like the anime, the villains of the piece are not simple cookie cutter villains, but instead realistically drawn out people with motivations – indeed at times you can see things from there perspective[twisted as they are].
While the artwork is detailed and able to clearly I.D. Each character my chief complaint about this series is the sudden lurch from kyoukou and Yuma  and instead towards an ending that felt less story driven and more to sell more titles to the Madoka fanbase.

Kazumi magica

Kazumi magica, out of the three here, both stands on its own from the main series – and yet feels the least like Madoka – Allow me to explain……
In this [to date] 2 volume series We are introduced to our heroine Kazumi, a girl with no memories of her past and yet who has the powers of a Puella Magi, and her battles with witches. Kazumi in her none magical times lives with soccer mad Karou and popular writer Umika, fellow teens and both Puella magi [both of which are themed on their pastimes – Karou’s a football based attack, complementing Umika’s ability to create a book capable of various abilities]. Later on the cast is completed with the introduction of the Pleiades saints – a group of Puella magica that Kazumi, Karou and Umika are members of.

And yet we get the hint, like its progenitor, that things are not what they seem – like the fact that the number of attacks by witches seem to also to be related to other Puella magi.

What is Kazumi’s dark secret….?

And what are the “evil nuts”, strange grief saeed life devices that can instantlly turn anyone into a witch, Puella magi or human alike?

And Why are the Pleiades saints themselves hunting other puella Magi?
And all the while, in a more darker twist, we get the hint that Kazumi’s Past may not be as bright nd spunky as the mangas overall plot makes out…..

Be aware though that this series is a stand alone in almost every sense – with the exception of a brief nod to the original Madoka series [ and later on the addition of an all together diiferent version of Kyubey] there will be none of the original cast turning up in this series, making the characters all the more necessary to be able to stand out – which, which while managing to give them all basic character backgrounds and motivations to become Puella magi, that’s all it is – basic.
At the end of the day though, out all the possible areas that could have niggled me, its the artwork in this series, that I find annoying – gone is the detailed artwork of Madoka and Orico, and instead we are given what could best be described as someone trying to copy Noizi Itos style, and yet coming off as nothing more than a pale copy.

All in all, while at two volumes we are only beginning to scratch the surface of this universe, I cant help but wonder if  we’ll be eventually awarded for our patience.

Conclusion
No one could deny the effect that Puella Magi madoka magica has had on anime fandom, and with a western release of the anime coming this year from Aniplex USA, that madoka has the potential to become a necessary addition to any anime fans collection.

But are the manga likewise worthwhile?
Orico, out of the three titles, stands as one that is more suited to fans of Madoka already, as there’s little in the way of introduction to the series or the characters.
With Kazumi – while it would be easy to cross this one off, there are still little hints that keep bringing me back to it every time – just like the anime!
As for Madoka – this one, while intended more for the fan of the anime, is also ideal for non Madoka fans as well, as it gives the reader everything they reed to know and is sill as gripping and as entertaining as the anime.

As of this years New York Comic con American manga publisher Yen press have announced their plan to release the the original madoka manga series in the west, starting next year.

As of this date there are no plans to release either Kazumi magica or Orico magica.